The Formation of Relationships on Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

A thesis submitted to the University of Western Sydney, Nepean as partial fulfilment for the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Applied Communication Studies.

by Elisabeth Byrne

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences November, 1994


I would like to thank my supervisor, Greg, for his support, encouragement and advice without which I would never have written this thesis. I would also like to thank Marsha and Ray who took the time to listen to my problems and read over drafts. I also have to thank my family for putting up with my endless hours in front of the family computer. Thanks also go Chris for understanding and listening to my crazy and sometimes weird ideas and M whose fault it was that I came to know about IRC. Also, thanks to all the crazy people on #Aussies, those I interviewed, the people who were motivated enough to fill in my surveys and the many and varied nicks who appear in my logs.


New technologies have the potential to reshape human communication. With the emergence of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), this thesis seeks to explore the ways this medium alters the way people communicate on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and yet also how it is that relationship formation in this medium on an interpersonal level reproduces aspects of Face to Face (FTF) communication by users adapting the medium to their needs. The users of IRC in this adaptation develop and maintain the many types of relationships that are present in FTF communication from enemies to friends to lovers.

This thesis explores the nature of relationship formation on IRC using three theories. These theories show that relationships formed on IRC bare many similarities to FTF relationships, however, because new technology reshapes human relationships and because of the specific medium of CMC and its absence of physical presence, communication on IRC is developed in a specific nature as users adapt to the weaknesses and strengths of the medium. As a result, this thesis shows that IRC users develop a communicative richness, novel ways of expressing information and emotional meaning in relationship formation.

This thesis also explores the nature of the presentation and perception of self in CMC in contrast to the relatively simple notions of self expressed in the relationship formation theories. It is suggested that the peculiar nature of CMC and its absence of physical presence, highlights the extent to which the self presented in relationships is changeable depending on issues such as context. Using Goffman (1969) this thesis explores the various dimensions of the self on IRC. It is also noted that IRC, like all communications technologies, is inserted and developed in the context of existing social relations. It explores the way in which traditional forms of power are negotiated on IRC focusing particularly on the question of gender but also the way in which new forms of power relations are developed through the new medium.



Chapter 1 - Literature Review

Chapter 2 - CyberTalk

Chapter 3 - CyberEgo


Reference List


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